A recent research report released by the Department of Communications has suggested that internet website-blocking measures may prevent digital piracy.
The June 24 report into online copyright infringement estimated that 43 per cent of Australian online users have consumed infringing content – that is, downloaded free music, TV, movies or video games via peer-to-peer connections – in the past three months, compared to 21 per cent of users in the UK.
The one major problem with this comparison is that online users in the UK have had access to a number of comprehensive streaming media services, like Amazon Prime and Netflix, for many years – the latter enjoying a presence in more than one in 10 households.
However, rather than acknowledging the effect of availability and access, across a span of years, the reason for this difference in statistics has been swiftly attributed to the UK’s extensive website-blocking measures.
Naturally, rights holders in Australia have been swift to jump on the site-blocking merry-go-round.
One such company is Foxtel, which released a statement last week “welcoming” the research.
“The research clearly indicates that where governments take action to reduce levels of online copyright infringement it has an effect on peoples’ behaviour,” said Bruce Meagher, Foxtel Group Director of Corporate Affairs.
However, there is arguably a different interpretation of this data: that the results tell of a market where piracy has declined due to an easily accessible supply of timely content, all available at a reasonable price.
“I don’t necessarily accept that that’s true,” said Mr Meagher.
“Music may be available worldwide on streaming services on the day and date of release, but it is still heavily pirated.”
Mr Meagher has been a loud voice in the war against online piracy, declaring that Australia’s new site-blocking measures will help “send the clear message to consumers that this activity is not only unacceptable, but illegal”.
For quite some time those involved in this battle have been locked in a ‘because they can/because they can’t’ debate: users pirate simply because they can or simply because they can’t access the content they want in a timely and cheap manner.
Data in this new report clearly indicates that content delivered in a timely, more accessible and cost-friendly manner could be the greatest carrot to dangle before repeat infringers; a sentiment echoed by Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull.
“This criticism that our industry is not addressing the problem is demonstrably not true,” said Mr Meagher.
“If you look at us, we release regular TV shows on or about the time of shows in the US. You can watch Game of Thrones sooner on Foxtel than you can in some US states, when you consider time zone differences.
“We’ve also reduced prices for our main service, but things have a cost. There is no model where you can just give this stuff away for free.”
However, it has only been in the past few months – when enough competition entered the market to force some monopolies to tumble – that this approach was embraced in Australia.
Six months ago, Australians had no access to Stan, Netflix or Presto, services that range between $9 and $15 a month.
Until January 26 (when Stan launched), services like Foxtel, Fetch TV and Quickflix were the only subscription services available, costing between $10 to $35 per month or more, each with varying degrees of on-demand content and titles limited by widely differing rights deals. Have they really been trying that hard?
Australia’s much-debated Anti-Piracy Bill, which will give rights holders the same powers as their UK counterparts, will go some ways to prevent online piracy. But we still have a long way to go before many Australians bring their ship to shore and buy digital content from legitimate sources.
Ultimately, if we want to see a greater reduction in piracy, the onus now rests with rights holders. For many companies, it’s challenging to consider that a profits-based approach to content delivery will force people out to sea.
By delivering a range of content that users want, in a timely and reasonably priced manner, there may be no need to call on the government to digitally scupper users who simply want to enjoy flexibility and variety in their entertainment hours.